Williams steps up the pace to oust Henry

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The Independent Online

Mark Williams has spent much of the season noisily deriding his performances while quietly winning enough matches to ensure he will be world No1 when the rankings list for next season is published next month. True to type he blew hot and cold last night and reached the quarter-finals of the Embassy World Championship.

Scrappy, careless, Williams was less than commanding at times during his 13-9 win over Drew Henry but he is the one within two matches of a repeat appearance in the final and the conviction is growing that he will be world champion on 1 May. If he starts playing well it should be no contest.

Williams, who has reached six finals this season, winning the UK Championship and Thailand Masters, began the day 5-3 up, maintained his two-frame advantage after yesterday's morning session and appeared to be easing away when he won the first frame of the evening to go 10-7 ahead with breaks of 31 and 33. He then hit an untidy phase and if Henry had taken his chances in the 20th frame they would have re-appeared level after the mid-session break. Instead Williams scraped an 11-9 lead and, reprieved, finished off Henry with breaks of 72 and 75. "A few frames were a bit edgy or scrappy but over best-of 25 you're going to get that," he said. "Overall I thought I played well, better than I have done."

Jimmy White also made significant progress towards the quarter-finals yesterday, taking a 11-5 lead over Stephen Hendry's conqueror Stuart Bingham but yet again the attention was less on the table and more on the crowd who follow the Whirlwind.

In the first round Billy Snaddon said he had been distracted by the shouts for White and last night Bingham had to endure a wrapped piece of chewing gum being thrown on to the floor of the arena while he was making a shot during the first frame of the session. Not surprisingly, he missed and he lost the next six frames.

Whether Bingham's concentration was affected he did not say but White angrily insisted the offender should be ejected, a request that could not be carried out because security officers could not identify the culprit. White, meanwhile, rattled in breaks of 54, 52, 56, 44 and 43 and is now only two frames away from a quarter-final against either Matthew Stevens or Alan McManus.

If White was impressive, Dominic Dale was even more so and at times you expected the referee to intervene to spare David Gray further punishment. It finished as a 13-1 rout, which equalled the highest margin of victory in the second round.

Gray defeated Ronnie O'Sullivan in the first round but there was none of the exuberance yesterday and, apart from his from frame-winning 82, he managed only three breaks that reached double figures. "I can't believe I've gone from my best snooker of the season to probably the worst in the space of four days," he said. "Towards the end I wanted the ground to swallow me up."

Dale, winner of the Grand Prix in 1997 whose trademark is his colourful clothes, ended the match with a session to spare, garnishing his overnight 7-1 lead with two century breaks. Gray's assessment of his performance was correct but Dale was impressive. "I must have played better than I thought to beat David 13-1, particularly the way he was against Ronnie," he said. "I've had a few lean years since winning the Grand Prix but my coach Don Newcombe has transformed me into the player I used to be. I've got more confidence now and the way I played in that match I won't have to improve an unfathomable amount to be capable of winning this."

Stephen Lee, the fifth seed, has a record that suggests he, too, is capable of winning, but he has a less-than-easy task holding off Fergal O'Brien today. The Irishman has a 5-3 lead after a gruelling session of 3hrs 6mins.

Lee, a finalist in the China and Welsh Opens, began impressively enough with a break of 71 but O'Brien kept in touch and took the last two frames of the session. It could be a long match tonight.